Hawaii Juvenile Law — The CASA program

Hawaii Juvenile Law — The CASA program

Since I’ve gone into private practice I’ve been lucky enough to participate in all different types of judicial/non-judicial hearings. I’ve done negotiations, the national TTAB, Federal Court, and military court. One of my first cases as a private attorney involved a family involved in a matter where the State got involved and took away the parents’ right to make decisions as it involved their own kids.  There has never been a question that these parents absolutely loved the kids. Drugs are not even suggested to be in the picture.

It was during these hearings I got to know the CASA program. And then I read this letter in today’s paper.

Problems with Honolulu's CASA program
Letter to the Editor

I was offended.

No matter what my differences of opinion may be with Judge Viola, or Deputy Attorney General Erin Iwamoto-Torres, or Social Worker Mary Saga-Petaia, no one can say they don’t care for the kids in the judicial system. It takes only minutes of looking at Judge Viola think about his decisions to know he cares, deeply and and from his soul, about these kids.

Rarely am I driven to write a letter to the paper, in this case I did, leaving out the names.

My response

Ken Bailey’s letter of 6/3/2012 betrays quickly exactly what is wrong with the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program when he says “their CASA volunteer will be the one constant adult presence — the one adult who cares for them”.  Never mind judges that dedicate their life to this. Mr. Bailey lists and discounts the social workers for CPS, the doctors at Kapiolani, or the lawyers of the Attorney General’s office. The messiah complex of CASA is disgusting.  I’d like to assure him that each and every person involved in the court system cares very deeply about these children, not only him.

Remember always the people who often care the most about these children, their families.

Quite often families have babies too young, or without the necessary tools, and don’t know how to care for their children. Yes, sometimes, not always, drugs become a big issue.  But as the law agrees, our duty is to give families the tools to repatriate these children as soon as they are able to care for them. The State of Hawaii should not be in the business of divesting families of their children. For the amount of children that go through the system, we are doing pretty well.  Do we so soon forget that children die in Foster Care too?  A wise lady once said “it takes a village to raise a child”. CASA would do well to appreciate the other members of the village, of which they are but one.

And finally, to use the death of a child as a means to attract volunteers or traffic to your website, you should be ashamed. 

Marcus L. Landsberg IV
Landsberg Law Office
Executive Centre
1088 Bishop Street, Penthouse

Honolulu HI, 96813

I did what’s called “burying the lead”. I wrote at the end what I really wanted to yell from the mountaintops. A baby’s body isn’t cold, and you’re asking for donations?” This is how CASA chooses to Cherish the Children. And let’s be clear, this is advertisement for a website that clearly asks for donations.

Judges are not regularly lauded.  Basically when things go wrong, they’re on the front page, and when everything goes right people ask “Why do they get paid so much?” It’s realistic to think if Judge Viola, for example, does this until he retires, he’s probably going to lose ten years off of his life from the accumulated effects of the stress of these kids. We sweat and worry and scrimp and have heartache over an only child. I can only imagine how many children he holds in his care.  And if he returns the kids too early, they’re worse off.  And if he returns the kids too late (or never) it really destroys the fabric of society.

But at least as a judge, when he walks in the room, people’s backs straighten and want to shake his hand. The social workers, for a third of the money and none of the respect are the front lines in the war for child welfare. And lets be very clear here: The war for child welfare has little to do with who these kids are now, and everything to do with who they will become in the future. Will they be properly adjusted, or will they be in Halawa? Like I told my friend the other day, being from a broken home is not an excuse anymore, it’s called “Growing up in the 80’s.”

So in closing let me summarize my open letter to CASA like this. You’re not the only ones who care for these kids. We all care for these kids. The difference is we all recognize that we’re all a part of the village that is raising this child. If a single mother walked into J. Viola’s courtroom and said about her kids that she was “the one adult who cared for them”, what would he respond?

“Everybody in this room cares about your child. We’re all working very hard to do what’s best for your child. That includes working hard to get you, the parent, in a situation where we can put the child back with you. Work with us so we can all work together.”

CASA, work with us so we can all work together. If you’re working alone, you’re working against everyone else.  

For the good of the children.

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